Energy Justice During Crises
Fighting for Power During the COVID and Climate Emergencies
The COVID-19 crisis has spotlighted the chronic injustices in our energy system. The Center for Biological Diversity’s Energy Justice Program is committed to building a better energy future by challenging the fossil fuel-powered, corporate utility status quo while advancing clean and renewable energy solutions to address the triple threats of COVID, climate and racism. Take action to help.
A Lack of State Protections Leaves Most of U.S. Vulnerable to Shutoffs
Millions of families have either had their power shut off, or are at risk, during climate-induced heat waves, wildfires and hurricanes because they can’t afford their electricity. Since the pandemic began, 32 states and Washington, D.C., enacted emergency orders temporarily halting shutoffs, but most have expired. This has created an inequitable patchwork of threats across the country. To ensure no family falls through the cracks, Congress must pass a nationwide moratorium on utility shutoffs.
Key Findings (as of January 12):
- Only 9 states and Washington, D.C., have orders in place to prevent power shutoffs.
- By the end of January 2021, just 7 states — Arkansas, California, Hawaii, New Mexico, New York, Vermont and Washington — could have binding shutoff moratoriums in place. Households in all other states could have their power shut off for nonpayment.
- California and New York have some of the strongest state orders. New York’s state order protects everyone, not just customers of investor-owned utilities. Both states' orders last for an extended period of time, waive late fees, and provide payment-assistance programs.
- Millions of families risk having their power shut off. In North Carolina an estimated 2.5 million people — or 1 in 3 households — are at risk of disconnection due to inability to pay. In Georgia an estimated 50,000 people risk disconnection.
- Congress has failed to pass a nationwide moratorium, despite widespread public support. A nationwide shutoff moratorium was included in the House COVID relief bill and the HEROES Act, and was supported by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sens. Jeff Merkley and Sherrod Brown, but it was not included in the final relief bill passed in December 2020. Some financial support for rent assistance, which can extend to utility assistance, was included.
Read our past issue briefs tracking the shutoff crisis since COVID began:
The above data builds off of the work of Energy and Policy Institute, which has led the charge on tracking states and utilities that have committed to suspending disconnections.
Energy Justice Is Climate Justice Is Racial Justice
Read about how our short-term fight against energy shutoffs feeds into our greater mission to reform the energy sector for climate, energy and social and racial justice. Check out our pieces with the German foundation Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung and in The Hill.
Milestones in the Nationwide Fight Against Utility Shutoffs and Long-term Power Shifts
- In January 2021 the Center led a mobilization of more than 600 utility-justice, environmental, racial justice, labor and faith groups to urge the Biden administration to halt utility shutoffs nationwide.
- In December 2020 the NoShutOffs Coalition helped publish a series of local letters to the editor to support a federal shutoff moratorium in: The Republic, Pharos Tribune, Goshen News, South Bend Tribune, Connersville News Examiner, The News & Observer, Dubois County Free Press, and Clarion Ledger.
- In October 2020 the NoShutOffs Coalition supported Sen. Brown’s vital letter to utilities demanding they provide data on disconnections.
- In September 2020 the NoShutOffs Coalition worked with labor unions to elevate the urgent need for people’s relief in the COVID crisis and demand that Congress halt its delays.
- In August 2020 the Center and climate-justice allies filed a petition with the Tennessee Valley Authority demanding a shutoff moratorium, relief funding and public hearings to usher in a clean energy transition. The TVA offered some financial relief shortly thereafter.
- In June and July 2020, the NoShutOffs Coalition, partnering with the Poor People’s Campaign and The Real News Network, worked with leading Senate champions and people threatened by utility shutoffs to urge the Senate to pass COVID relief.
- In May 2020 the House passed the HEROES Act, including the nationwide moratorium on shutoffs. Sens. Merkley and Brown introduced sister legislation to enact a nationwide moratorium in the Senate. Read coverage from the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.
- The Movement for Black Lives has demanded the same moratorium on utility shutoffs. Our work continues in solidarity to protect Black lives and achieve energy justice.
- In April 2020 the Center led a mobilization of 830 environmental, civil rights and racial justice, faith and labor groups to form the NoShutoffs Coalition urging Congress to pass a robust nationwide moratorium on power, water and broadband shutoffs. In response 113 members of Congress signed a letter demanding the moratorium.
- In March 2020 the Center spearheaded an emergency letter from 600 groups to state governments, utility regulators and rural cooperatives demanding a stop to power shutoffs. In response to public outcry, 15 senators wrote a letter to Senate leaders demanding nationwide relief.